You are used to seeing Rome's Colosseum, Florence’s Duomo, and the Amalfi coast's cliff-hugging, richly painted towns when searching for photos of Italy, but there’s a lot more than the big hits. While it’s often overshadowed by the most sought-after Italian destinations, Puglia, often referred to as the heel of Italy’s boot, is one of the best vacation spots you can hope for.
Home to whitewashed hill towns, diverse landscapes, and some of the best beaches in the whole of Europe, this sun-kissed region of southern Italy in the heel of the boot-shaped country has emerged as one of the Mediterranean’s newest luxury destinations, still retaining a peaceful off-the-beaten-track charm.
Whether you’re looking for seaside relaxation, you’re itching for some fresh seafood, or you want to visit impossibly beautiful Baroque towns, the southern Italian region of Apulia (Puglia in Italian) is really worth visiting now, before it gets too popular.
Top places to visit
There are so many picturesque Apulian cities, towns and villages it was difficult to narrow down this list. But we’ve selected some of the most beautiful ones for you to visit.
Visit Lecce, the cream-colored limestone capital of Apulian Baroque
Nestled in the Salento peninsula, Lecce is a haven for history and architecture buffs and art lovers. Often dubbed the Florence of the South, Lecce is a Baroque masterpiece of a city built from cream-colored limestone. Visiting this bijou town is one of the top things to do in Puglia.
Visit Otranto, Italy's easternmost town
You might have probably heard of Otranto, pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, for Horace Walpole’s gothic novel The Castle of Otranto. Lying deep in Italy’s stiletto, this charming seaside town offers a seductive blend of history, culture, aquamarine waters, and laidback holiday atmosphere. Otranto is Italy's easternmost town, and its strategic position in the Mediterranean Sea has profoundly influenced its history. Everyone from the Ancient Greeks to the Ottomans and Normans have ruled the city over the centuries.
See the 14th-century conical trulli huts in Alberobello
Alberobello is a picturesque town in the beautiful Itria Valley, famous for its distinctive, cone-roofed, beehive-shaped trulli houses. A fascinating place to visit, the trulli area of Alberobello was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1996.
Marvel at the whitewashed beauty of Ostuni
A short drive south-east of Alberobello is the stunning white city of Ostuni, built atop a hill overlooking the silvery olive groves that sweep through this verdant area of the region. A maze of meandering cobbled alleys lined with fine restaurants and breathtaking viewpoints, this strikingly beautiful, gleaming-white town in the province of Brindisi surrounds an impressive 15th century Gothic cathedral, and should be at the top of every Apulian itinerary.
Explore Puglia's stunning beaches
Puglia lies between the Ionian and the Adriatic Sea, boasting more than 500 miles of diverse and beautiful coastline. For sea lovers and sun seekers, it’s a treasure trove of velvety stretches of powdery white sand, secluded bays only accessible by boat, and Instagram-worthy hidden coves framed by rugged, prickly pear-covered cliffs, from the mountainous Gargano promontory in the north to the Salento peninsula in the south.
The historic fortress island town of Gallipoli on the Ionian coast is home to wonderfully gorgeous Caribbean-esque sandy beaches. Less than a half an hour’s drive from Bari, Puglia’s eclectic capital, the quaint seaside town of Polignano a Mare is one of the region’s best-kept secrets, where the charm of old Apulia seems to remain intact. With its white-pebble beach framed by high rocky cliffs, Polignano a Mare is one of the most evocative, suggestive, and photogenic locations in Italy, if not Europe. The birthplace of Domenico Modugno, who penned the hit Italian song "Volare", this is a gem really worth uncovering before everyone else does.
Where to stay
You are genuinely spoiled for choice when it comes to luxury accommodation in Puglia, from rustic-chic hotels with lovely pools to super-luxe villas with direct access to the sea, elegant city center apartments, beautifully restored masserias, and exclusive holiday homes where traditional and modern luxuries unite.
Where to eat
Puglia is a delight for anyone who loves fresh, farm-to-table food. Apulian cuisine is rich and varied, combining local produce such as artichokes, tomatoes, fava beans, and red chili peppers, with flavors bequeathed by Greeks, Turks, and Normans. Be sure to dine al fresco at excellent seafood restaurants serving traditional Puglian dishes right on the beach, and in trattorias that serve traditional delights washed down with local wine.
What to wear
Sun’s out! It’s time to hit the beach and poolside with Oriah eco-luxe swimwear pieces from the Wilde Oasis collection featured in Italy. Whether it is basking in the golden sun, relaxing in a panoramic jacuzzi, or lounging poolside with a glass of wine and listening to the melodic sound of cicadas you desire, you surely need a good swimsuit that is chic and saucy, classy and comfy, while also being well made using the finest fabrics.
Photographer David André and Paris-based model Sarah Poultry share hidden gems and highlights from their road trip from France to the Southern Italian region of Apulia.
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